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Chronically Growing with Diabetes: Type 1 Onset and Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

by Katie Little, MS CNP- Institute Fellow


As we end November-National Diabetes Awareness Month, we will talk about the onset of Type 1 Diabetes and Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). Early detection of the signs and symptoms of high blood glucose for someone who is undiagnosed can be life saving. Below is my personal experience with diabetes, and the many people who loved me, and had my health and best interest in mind.

My diabetes journey began at the age of 12. I was a healthy and active 12 year old who did gymnastics about 16 hours a week. I had a healthy relationship with food, and enjoyed junk food as any 12 year old might. My performance in gymnastics was declining, and was very apparent to my coaches. My coaches noticed I no longer had energy like I used to, and was experiencing a decline in my weight (I lost 15 pounds). During a gymnastic banquet, my coach approached my mom and asked her if she had any worry of me having an eating disorder. My mom reassured her that she had no concerns of an eating disorder, and the night continued. I overheard this conversation, and was shocked that someone would think this about me. I loved food!

Additionally, I had drastic vision changes, felt dizzy at school, had an unquenchable thirst, went to the bathroom often, and even wet the bed (which was never an issue prior to becoming sick). As time went on, and school was coming to an end, my mom had to go out of town for a work conference. During this time my grandparents were looking after me, and began to get worried. I became sick while at my end of the year field trip to the Rec Plex. I remember freezing while ice skating, swimming and being cold (someone noticed my blue lips), and sitting in the women's locker room as I threw up from downing an orange drink quickly. Someone in the locker room went and got a teacher who helped me up to another room where I sat drinking on Sprite in hopes to settle my stomach as the day finished. Upon my return to school, my grandparents were called to pick me up. That was how 6th grade ended for me.

After arriving home, my grandpa who was a plumber for much of his working life, noticed a fruity smell on my breath. He read often, and recalled coming across something describing this symptom related to diabetes. My grandparents immediately called to make an appointment with my doctor. At my appointment, my grandparents and I explained how I was feeling, the doctor checked my blood sugar. The meter read HIGH (which meant that my blood sugar was over 600). The doctor briefly explained that I had diabetes, and asked if I knew what that meant. I said yes, based on a close family member that had Type 1 diabetes, and replied with, “It means Diet Coke and insulin shots”. I was then put in a wheelchair and rushed through the underground tunnel to the hospital next door where I was greeted in the ICU. My ICU stay was rough to say the least. They had a hard time getting an IV in me, which was critically to rehydrate me and begin an insulin drip. I remember being very frightened during all of this, and just wanting water. The doctor only allowed my grandma to give me ice chips every once in a while as they rehydrated me through my IV. I was allowed a short visit by a few friends from school which helped cheer me up immensely since I didn’t get to say goodbye at the end of my school year. I also received lots of love in the form of cards and gifts from family members, neighbors, and friends. Once I became stable, they moved me to a regular hospital floor where I continued to be monitored and began my diabetes education.

Shortly after my stay, my grandparents told me that my ICU stay was critical because I was close to going into a diabetic coma or having a heart attack from the onset of diabetes. It took multiple people listening to my young complaints, and noticing things I could not, to build my team of support as I went through this critical phase of life. I am grateful to be here because of each of these individuals, and others who may not have been mentioned, who noticed my health changes and acted.

Looking back at all of my signs and symptoms of getting sick, this was the onset of Type 1 Diabetes. I was also experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis. According to the American Diabetes Association, Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs when your cells don't get the glucose they need for energy, resulting in your body burning fat for energy and producing ketones. Ketones are created during this process and build us in your blood, making it acidic. Ketones can poison your body when their levels are too high. This results in DKA.

Early Symptoms of DKA:

● Dry mouth & being thirsty

● Going to the bathroom frequently

● High blood sugar levels

● High levels of ketones (can be checked with a urine ketone strip or blood ketone meter)

Additional Symptoms of DKA:

● Exhaustion and fatigue

● Flushed or dry skin

● Unexplained nausea or vomiting (trouble keeping liquid and food down)

● Difficulty breathing

● Fruity smell on breath

● Unexplained confusion or hard time focusing

Someone experiencing DKA, or any of the above symptoms, should call their doctor, go to the emergency room, or hospital immediately. Knowing the signs and symptoms of DKA could save a life!

Join us next week as we look at mental health and well-being with diabetes.


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